You may be under the impression that all dogs know how to swim, after all, why else would it be called dog paddling? If that’s the case, then are doggie life jackets necessary? The fact of the matter is, there are some dog breeds that are better suited for water activities and some that better keep their feet dry on the shore. Whichever type of dog you have, all can benefit from wearing a life jacket when around the water or in a boat. Your pup may be capable of navigating the slow, calm water but what about when the current is too strong, the waves are too tall, or the water is too cold?
Life jackets not only provide buoyancy to keep your pup afloat should they get in too deep; they can also provide added visibility and an easy to grab handle to aid in rescuing your dog from the water. Even the most seasoned doggie swimmers can get too tired or cold or simply get out matched by the water and need to rely on a life jacket to save their life.
How to Choose the Best Dog Life Jacket
As with any dog product, not all life jackets are created equal and there is no one-size-fits all version. Choosing the best life jacket for your pup will depend on a variety of factors including features of the jacket as well as needs of your dog.
- Buoyancy: Buoyancy is related to the ability of the jacket, and therefore, the dog inside it, to float. Some life jackets are more buoyant than others and some dogs will need more buoyancy than others. For example, a heavyset breed like a bulldog will take more to keep afloat than a miniature schnauzer even though they may be relatively the same height. You will also want to look at where those floatation areas are located. Some life jackets have the main floatation device under the belly which could make it difficult for your pup to stay upright. You’ll want to look for a life jacket that has floatation up the sides and over the back as well as around the neck to help keep their heads above water. The degree of buoyancy also becomes an issue in overly anxious dogs that may really struggle when in the water.
- Size: Obviously the size of the life jacket is important to consider when purchasing one for your dog. Too big and your pup could slip out, too small and it might not keep them afloat. Accurately measuring and weighing your dog is a must for determining the correct life jacket size.
- Fit: The style and fit of a life jacket goes a long way in determining how comfortable it will be and how willing your dog will be to wear it. For dogs that like to get out and swim, you might want a life jacket with a little trimmer fit to allow easy mobility. Dogs that prefer to watch from the boat seat can get by with a life jacket that isn’t as sleek but that still won’t rub or restrict movement.
- Color: The color of the life jacket is about more than just the fashion statement. Look for one that is highly visible in all types of water. Green, blue, grey or brown aren’t good options. Rather look for reds, oranges and yellow life jackets.
- Material: The material of the life jacket can mostly be up to personal preference, just make sure it won’t absorb water and that it is durable and sun resistant. Most dog life jackets are made of neoprene or nylon, but there is a pretty wide range out there.
- Handles: You’ll want to find a dog life jacket that has a large handle attached to the back. This makes it easier to grab your pup from the water and can also double as a harness to help maneuver older or mobility impaired dogs.
- Other features: Once you find a life jacket that meets the basics, you’re free to look at additional safety and convenience features.
- Reflective strips: For added visibility, reflective strips will help get your dog seen when out in the open water or in low light situations.
- Adjustable straps: For a more custom fit, look for adjustable straps. You can then cinch down or let out the life jackets to make them more comfortable and secure.
- Insulation: Thinner haired or low body fat dogs may enjoy a life jacket with a little insulation to better keep them warm out in the cooler water. These life jackets by no means make it safe for your dog to swim in icy, cold water but will help them in the event of an emergency.
- Leash attachment: Attaching a leash to a life jacket will come in handy if you have to rescue your pup from the water as well as the commute from the car to the boat or beach. A securely fitted life jacket works the same way as a harness, so you could theoretically use it for a stroll along the beach if it has a leash attachment.
- Pockets: Need a handy place to store the leash or other small items? Pick a life jacket with pockets, preferable with zippered closures, to keep items safe and convenient.
Review of the Best Dog Life Jackets on the Market 2020
With all of the dog life jacket products on the market, it may be a bit overwhelming to try to find one that works for your dog. Here is a review of some of the best ones out there to help you narrow it down.
1. Vivaglory New Sports Style Ripstop Dog Life Jacket Safety Vest with Superior Buoyancy & Rescue Handle
- Best For: all water activities
- Dimensions: weighs 12 ounces, 18 inches long (based on size large)
- General description: The new sports style design life jacket from Vivaglory is specifically designed to be more comfortable for your dog by not preventing movement while still keeping their head above water with 50% more buoyancy material than most other brands. The new neck design also allows your dog to keep their head in a more natural position to be more comfortable and keep your dog at ease in the water. The outer ripstop fabric is durable as well as highly visible with reflective trim for better nighttime visibility.
- Pros and cons: This life jacket really does seem to fit most dogs well, and is comfortable enough that even those that have shunned other styles of life jackets are ok with wearing this one. It seems to provide great buoyancy without a lot of bulk.
2. Outward Hound Granby Splash Dog Life Jacket
- Best For: water activities and boating
- Dimensions:7 ounces, 18 inches long
- General Description: The Outward Hound Granby Splash Dog Life Jacket makes it quick and easy to retrieve your pup from the water with it’s dual grab handles. This jacket also features multiple straps and buckles for a safe and customized fit. The neck float will help your dog keep their head above water and the ripstop, high visibility material with reflective strips will help them to be seen.
- Pros and Cons: This life jacket from Outward Hound seems to fit better than other brands, probably due to all of the adjustable straps and buckles. The float under the neck seems to work well to keep dog’s heads out of the water, a major plus to not only keep dogs from drowning, but to keep them from panicking as well.
3. RUFFWEAR Float Coat Dog Life Jacket for Swimming, Adjustable and Reflective
- Best For: rafting, kayaking, boating, surfing, paddle boarding and swimming
- Dimensions:8 ounces, 10.4 inches long
- General Description: The Float Coat from Ruffwear has strategically placed floatation devices to help keep your dog afloat as well as right them if they’re upside down in the water. It’s a low profile, shorter life jacket than most making it easy for a dog to maneuver normally without restriction. This life jacket also features reflective trim for increased safety and a grab handle for easy removal from the water.
- Pros and Cons: The Ruffwear Float Coat Life Jacket seems to be a better choice for heavier set dogs with thick but short bodies. It’s able to keep them afloat without being too constricting or too long and able to catch on things. It’s also very adjustable making it easy to customly fit most dog bodies.
4. HAOCOO Dog Life Jacket with Reflective Stripes and Adjustable Belt
- Best For: all water sports
- Dimensions: 8 ounces, 12-16 inches long
- General Description: With an adjustable belt and quick release buckles, the Haocoo Dog Life Jacket is easy to get on and take off. It will adjust to nearly any dog body size to ensure that your pup is safe and comfortable in the water. There is also a top handle for easy water retrieval and a heavy-duty D ring for easy leash attachment. The neck has a floatation device underneath the head to help keep your pup’s head above water. Couple that with reflective trimming for increased safety.
- Pros and Cons: The life jacket is very lightweight, yet functional, making it a comfortable choice for most dogs. The floatation device in the neck is an extra safety measure that really seems to help some dogs maintain their calm when in the water. Dog parents also really like the designs and colors as well.
5. EzyDog Doggy Floatation Device Dog Life Vest Jacket
Best For: all water sports
Dimensions: 16 ounces, 18 inches long
General Description: A highly buoyant life jacket, the EzyDog Doggy Floatation Device has 50% more buoyant material than most life jackets to keep even the heaviest dogs afloat. It is also ergonomically designed to ensure a comfortable and unrestricted fit. The floatation panels are strategically placed to keep your dog upright and in a natural swimming position.
Pros and Cons: This Doggy Floatation Device from EzyDog is very durable, from the quality of the fabric to the adjustability of the straps and buckles. The top handle is also well made and convenient for quickly grabbing your dog from the water.
6. Petacc Dog Life Jacket
- Best For: pool, beach and boating
- Dimensions:8 ounces, 13.4 inches long
- General Description: This lightweight and highly adjustable dog life jacket is not only cute, it’s also safe and effective. The jacket uses Velcro and adjustable buckle closures around the neck and chest to ensure a proper fit. There are floatation devices in the neck, back, belly, and sides to keep your dog in a more natural swimming position with their head above water. It also has a D-ring for easy leash attachment and a top handle for quick water retrieval. And, let’s not forget the fun shark or mermaid designs.
- Pros and Cons: Dog parents love the uniqueness of the shark and mermaid design. It gives a little extra cuteness to an already safe and useful dog life jacket. It’s also very lightweight making it ideal for small dogs or strong swimmers that just a little additional support.
7. Queenmore Dog Life Jacket, Fish Style Floatation Vest with Adjustable Soft Rubber Handle
- Best For: Beach, Pool, Boating, Lake, Swimming, Hunting, Surfing
- Dimensions:6 ounces, 19.3 inches long
- General Description: This life jacket from Queenmore is made of durable oxford cloth on the back and sides and a breathable mesh lining on the belly to make it faster drying and more comfortable. It also features the D-ring for leash attachment and a top handle for grabbing your dog from the water. This jacket is another with a cute shark or fish design.
- Pros and Cons: Besides being cute, this dog life jacket is also very adjustable making it easy to properly fit to most dog sizes and shapes. It also seems to be fairly comfortable and most dogs don’t mind wearing it.
8. Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket Vest
- Best For: Swimming and boating
- Dimensions:2 ounces, 13 inches long
- General Description: The Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket is made of flexible neoprene to be water resistant and lightweight as well as comfortable. It also features a mesh underbelly lining to allow for great breathability to speed drying and prevent overheating and chaffing. This life jacket is adjustable with Velcro straps around the neck and belly that are backed up by adjustable straps and buckles for a safe and secure fit. An added bonus is the fun color and pattern selection that this life jacket comes in!
- Pros and Cons: The Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket works well for dogs of all shapes and sizes, from teacup chihuahuas to Labrador retrievers. The flexible fabric makes it comfortable and conforming for all day wear. Some dog parents even used it like a Thundershirt to help calm nervous dogs during thunderstorms or fireworks shows, completely on dryland.
9. SwimWays Sea Squirts Dog Life Vest w/Fin for Doggie Swimming Safety
- Best For: swimming
- Dimensions:6 ounces, 12 inches long
- General Description: Another cute shark life jacket, the Swim Ways Sea Squirts Dog Life Vest sports a flexible shark fin that can serve as an extra top handle if needed. However, there is also a sturdy top handle and a D-ring for leash attachment in front of the fin. It is easily adjustable to fit a variety of shapes and sizes and shorter in length for those shorter-bodied dogs.
- Pros and Cons: Dogs really don’t seem to mind wearing this life jacket from Swim Ways. It helps keep them afloat without hindering their normal movement, making swimming a breeze.
Dog Life Jacket Safety Tips
Life jackets don’t equal water safety, they’re only there to help. Make sure you’re following these other safety tips along with putting a life jacket on your dog to ensure a day of fun at the beach.
- Let them like it: If you’ve ever tried to get your pup to wear a sweater or other clothes, then you know it’s not as easy as buying one and slipping it on. It takes most dogs time to get used to it and a life jacket is no different. To ensure that your dog enjoys wearing a life jacket and is wearing it safely, give them time to properly get used to it. Let them sniff it, play with it, sleep with it, whatever, without wearing it until they’re completely comfortable being around it. This may take a couple of minutes or a couple of days depending on your dog’s personality. Once they’re comfortable being around it, open it up, show them how it moves and the noises that it may make. Slip it loosely over their head without tightening it down and let them wear it like that for a few minutes. Once they’re ok with this, tighten it snuggly around their neck and belly. Let them wear the life jacket in the house, for a walk, or for a game of fetch before ever taking them near the water. Use lots of positive reinforcement anytime they accept the life jacket and take a step back if they show any fear or apprehension. Once the life jacket becomes like their second skin, you’re ready to get wet.
- Properly fit: Before heading out into the surf, ensure that the life jacket is properly fitted and adjusted snuggly. You don’t want it to be so tight that it’s hard for your dog to breathe, but you want it snug enough so they can’t slip out. Use the two-finger rule just like you would with your dog’s collar. You should be able to slip two fingers between the life jacket and their skin at all of the areas were there is a strap.
- Constant supervision: Always supervise your dog even with a life jacket on. It doesn’t matter how safe and secure a life jacket is, some situations are just dangerous. Never leave your dog unattended when near the water, whether this is their first time out or their 101st time. Never fully rely on the life jacket. You’ve probably noticed from some of the reviews that the top handles and D-rings can still break, even with maximum reinforcement. For this reason you don’t want to fully rely on them to save your dog. Always have a backup plan, such as a life preserver or net, to remove your dog from the water should the handle break.
- Right gear at the right time: Match the life jacket to the activity. Some life jackets are made specifically for certain activities and some are more all-around types. Don’t take your dog on a boat with a life jacket that’s made specifically for swimming. These life jackets aren’t often buoyant enough to support a dog jumping or falling into the water. If your dog enjoys many different water activities, look for an all-around jacket that is buoyant and sleek enough to allow unhindered movement.
How to Measure Your Dog For a Life Jacket
Fit is almost everything with it comes to the security of a life jacket for your dog. Make sure that you’re getting the right size by taking accurate measurements. If you’ve ever outfitted your pooch with a coat, you’ve probably done this already. But in case you haven’t, let’s walk through how to properly measure your pup for a life jacket. Using a cloth measuring tape or a string that you then measure with a tape measure for this will make it much easier. For a visual of these measurements, check out this video.
Chest circumference: Also known as girth, the chest circumference is the distance around your dog’s chest at its deepest point. In most dogs that is right behind the front legs. Wrap your tape measure or string around the widest part of the body.
Neck circumference: To ensure that the life jacket that you get doesn’t choke your pup, measure the neck circumference down near the shoulders, about where a collar would normally sit.
Back length: You don’t want the life jacket to be too short and not support the hind end, but you also don’t want it to be so long that it hangs out over your dog’s tail. Measure your pooch from the point where the neck meets the shoulders to a point about two to three inches in front of the base of the tail.
Weight: Since a life jacket is meant to do more than just cover a dog’s body, you’ll also want to get an accurate weight to ensure that the buoyancy of the life jacket will support your dog’s weight to keep them afloat. If you don’t have a scale, make a quick stop into your veterinarian for an accurate weight.
Dog Life Jacket Care and Maintenance
Maintaining your dog’s life jacket is important not only for the life span of the product but for the safety of it as well. Fortunately, dog life jackets can be cared for in the same way that you should care for your own. Rinse it after every day on the water. Remove any loose dirt, debris or salt water, then allow it to line dry completely before storing. Use this time to also inspect the life jacket for any rips, tears, unravelings, or broken straps or buckles.
You’ll want to wash your dog’s life jacket at least once a month, depending on wear, or at least at the end of a season. Most life jackets are machine washable, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or you can hand wash them. For hand washing, use a heavy-duty detergent and a soft bristled brush, scrubbing all of the nooks and crannies. Rinse well to ensure complete detergent removal and then air dry completely.
Always store your dog’s life jacket out of the sun in a cool, dry place, preferably unfolded. Don’t place heavy objects on it or put it away for long periods dirty or wet.
Dog life jackets may seem like a luxury item that you don’t think your dog needs. That may be true if they never venture in or near the water. However, for pups that like to accompany you to the beach, on the boat, or even have their own surfboard, life jackets are a must. If you think there’s no way that your dog would put up with wearing a life jacket, think again. There are many styles out there that are ergonomically shaped and comfortable to wear. Just take your time picking out one that works for you and give your pup time to get used to it. They’ll ready to splash around safely in no time.